Pro-Poor Market or 'push-Cart Evil'? the Struggles of Poor Women Trading in 'world-Class' Cities

Thursday, 19 July 2018: 10:40
Oral Presentation
Susan Marie MARTIN, Independent Scholar, Bahrain, University College Cork (National University of Ireland), Ireland
Michel Foucault observed that even well intentioned policies have the potential to oppress. Historically and globally, this phenomenon is readily observed in cities when seemingly innocuous and potentially beneficial programmes of governance are positioned by civic leaders as meeting social needs by creating ‘jobs’ and ‘cleaning up’ inner cities. The result: urban public space is shaped for private gain, and the voices of the urban poor are silenced, their needs ignored, and they are pushed deeper into the social and economic margins. Across the twentieth century a significant casualty in the rush to create ‘world class’ cities was the market access rights of women seeking subsistence earnings. For centuries they have entered urban public space as street traders when the macroeconomy failed to produce employment opportunities, and governments failed to produce social supports to meet fundamental needs. However, their presence on the streets means they are visual reminders of the failures of the state and the economy as providers, and so they are, typically, constructed as counter-modern and deviant.

In the affluent ‘West’ open street markets have been hampered rather than protected by governments; this trend has spread to debtor nations modernising by criteria established in the affluent ‘West’. This trend persists despite common knowledge that street markets are vital for the poor as workers and consumers. This paper demonstrates how using a comparative study to create what Foucault calls ‘a history of the present’ informs the past, and deepens an understanding of contemporary struggles over public space. Qualitative and quantitative data gathered on women street traders in 1920s Ireland, when triangulated with contemporary data on their sisters in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, ‘emancipates’ the stories of the undocumented, develops an understanding of how governance structures deepen marginalisation, and suggests policy alternatives to hyper-regulation that privileges mainstream business interests.